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News / Sports / National Sports

Celtics stars Tatum, Brown feel better equipped to tackle 2nd chance in NBA Finals

‘The Jays’ believe losses last 2 seasons have helped them grow as players

Published: June 4, 2024, 7:08pm

BOSTON — For almost the entirety of their time together in Boston, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have been linked.

They were drafted by the Celtics third overall in back-to-back years.

They possess similar skillsets — two explosive and skilled wing players with an ability to score from nearly every spot on the court.

And they both have been central to the success of a Celtics team that has reached the NBA Finals for the second time in three seasons. It helped Brown earn the NBA’s first $300 million contract last summer. And, Tatum is expected to get one this offseason.

The team has branded the All-Stars as “The Jays” in a marketing campaign shown during games that pitted them against one another in mini competitions.

It has created natural comparisons between them along the way, fostering an atmosphere in which fans and sports pundits alike have tried to parse out which one of them is better, whose spot is most untouchable on the roster and which of them is more pivotal to the Celtics’ success as they prepare to lead the team to the franchise’s 18th NBA title.

It reached a new level last week during a segment on ESPN’s “Get Up” in which panelists debated whether the 26-year-old Tatum expressed excitement or disappointment while watching the 27-year-old Brown garner Eastern Conference finals MVP honors.

“I think it’s unfair to both of them,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said of what he viewed as an attempt to manufacture friction between the two stars.

But even as Tatum and Brown have distinguished themselves as the most important players on Boston’s roster and the keys to the Celtics’ fate in their NBA Finals matchup with the Dallas Mavericks, Mazzulla has hope that people will start viewing them differently.

“They’re, like, two completely different people. They’re two completely different players,” Mazzulla said. “They’re great teammates, they love each other and they go about winning and they go about their process in a different way. Why they have to always be lumped together I think is unfair.”

Tatum and Brown, along with Al Horford, are the only returning starters from the 2021-22 team that lost to the Golden State Warriors in six games in the Finals after holding a 2-1 series lead.

While Horford has taken on mostly a reserve role this season, backing up 7-footer Kristaps Porzingis, Tatum and Brown have taken their play up a notch.

Tatum’s scoring numbers have remained steady from the regular season (26.9 per game) into the playoffs (26.0), while his rebounding has increased from 8.1 to 10.4 per game in the postseason. Brown, too, has seen jumps in those categories, going from 23.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game to 25.0 points and 6.1 rebounds in the playoffs.

Tatum believes they’ve both used lessons from the 2022 NBA Finals’ loss, as well as last year’s conference finals loss to Miami, to grow into players more equipped to accomplish their championship goal this time around.

“Obviously, we’ve been there before, we came up short,” Tatum said. “You don’t always get a second chance, so really just looking at it as a second chance and trying to simplify things as much as we can.”

And being each other’s biggest cheerleaders, too.

After Brown made a game-tying 3-pointer late in Game 1 of the conference finals matchup with Indiana to send the game to overtime in an eventual Celtics’ victory, the highest praise came from Tatum.

“Big time players make big time plays,” Tatum said of Brown.

For Brown, this season has been about focusing on the expectations he has for himself and not worrying about others’ perception of him.

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Initially, when he was asked about not being included on either the All-NBA or All-Defensive teams, he shrugged it off, saying his attention was focused on getting back to the NBA Finals.

After he was named conference finals MVP, he acknowledged it did offer at least some motivation, particularly on the defensive side of the ball which he said he put most of his work into this past offseason.

“As time has gone by and I got to this point, I stopped caring,” Brown said. “I don’t care who sees what, as long as my city knows my value, my team knows my value, my family — that’s all I really care about.”

Mazzulla believes the reason the relationship between Brown and Tatum is so often talked about is rooted in outside disbelief that their dynamic doesn’t breed any rivalry between them.

“At the end of the day, like, those two guys, their relationship is their relationship,” Mazzulla said. “They love each other. They push each other every single day in practice. They communicate with each other, but they go about it differently. And, I think they both get it unfair being compared to each other. They’re different. And we see other duos around the league don’t have to go through that. … It’s because they’ve been so successful their entire careers, they’ve been able to for so long stay in success at a high level.”